Writing in Slate today, Deborah Blum shines light on the little-known Prohibition horror in which the US government deliberately poisoned the nation’s industrial alcohol supplies:
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
Read the whole thing here. Like Blum, this is an aspect of Prohibition I’d heard about but never read a full account of, so I’m grateful that she’s giving it the attention it deserves.
The wrong lesson to take from this is that we’re more enlightened now. Poisoning the alcohol supply was an egregious abuse, but it’s a small step from that to forcing terminally ill AIDS and cancer patients to give up the marijuana that suppresses their vomiting, to mention just one of the most tragic casualties in the War on Drugs. With prohibition of any kind, grotesque absolutism often leads the government to choose killing its citizens over letting them get high.